metallic arch of the fingers. Not the new canisters that slid in to replace the empty ones they had ejected. Not the things that filled them, fibrous, soft and wiggling in the glass, as they lowered themselves past my face and into my throat.
â¢ â¢ â¢ â¢
I was still on the table when I woke, but I was covered by a grey blanket of roughly woven wool, and the lamps were dimmed.
Â Â Devich stood beside me, holding my hand in his.
Â Â "Why did you do that to me?" Something pressed against my throat as I whispered. Small twinges of pain told me the numbness was wearing off. "I'm sick of this. People keep doing things."
Â Â "Oh, Tanyana." He pressed his forehead to the back of my hand. I could only see him from the corner of my eye; my neck was stiff with a strange combination of deadness and blossoming ache. "You have been suited, my girl."
Â Â Your girl? I wanted to explain in no uncertain terms why, exactly, I was nobody's girl, and certainly not his, but heavy eyelids and the threat of more drool stopped me.
Â Â "Hurts," I managed instead. "Pions hurt, now this hurts. Had enough. No more."
Â Â "The pions?" Devich's head jerked up, expression alarmed.
Â Â "Pushed me. No one will listen. But they did."
Â Â "Pushed you?" He hesitated, as though searching for the right words. "Iâ The suit, it will hurt for a while. So will the stitches. Until the networks stabilize. Until your skin heals."
Â Â Stitches and scars and suit, what did they look like? Was I still me?
Â Â "Can you forgive me?"
Â Â I couldn't quite move my mouth to answer him.
Â Â Devich sighed and stood slowly, joints creaking and back stooped, tired like an old man. "They will take you home now." He squeezed my hand. "You need to rest and to heal and then, then, I would like to see you again." He leaned close. "If you'll forgive me."
Â Â As he called to the puppets, as he held onto my hand, I knew I already had. If not for his self-deprecating laugh, if not for his soft touch, then at least for the water he had given me, when no one else would.
I learned to cover the suit if I wanted to sleep.
Â Â Any resemblance to jewellery ended with the silver. The fixtures were large and ungainly, as wide as the length of my middle finger. They were thick too, half an inch at least, so I couldn't pull sleeves down to cover them if the jacket was too tight, and most of the boots I owned were now unwearable.
Â Â Worst of all was the way the silver bands moved. At the centre of each was another ring, a thinner version of the whole apparatus that spun slowly, constantly. I hadn't gathered enough courage to touch it. This extra ring seemed to float on something liquid, it moved so smoothly. Around the floating ring were symbols, signs and letters of scrolling silver, and these were the bastards that glowed. As they moved â not with the floating ring, not with any apparent symmetry or reason â they flickered. Some dipped into dull nothingness while others rose from the silver shining, beaming their arcane meaning proudly.
Â Â I couldn't decide what Devich and the puppet men had fitted me with. Six bands of silver drilled into my skin were hardly what I could call a suit. If it was liquid, then why didn't it spill when I moved my hand? If it was solid, then how in all the Other's worst dreams did it move? And I wondered, dimly like a dull headache, what the pions were doing. Surely they were there, spinning the silver, shining the ciphers.
Â Â The veche returned me to my apartment after the suiting, and left me there. I lost track of days. No one visited. Not the puppet men, not Devich. No member of my circle. I couldn't do much other than throb with my collective pain and hope I was healing.
Â Â I went through the days like I was a puppet myself, someone else pulling the strings. Slowly my hand knitted together, fingers started to look like
Mark Nicholls and Penry Williams